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on 22 May 2008
I have to agree with other reviewers - this, too, is my favourite Hardy novel. Although Thomas Hardy's stories are always fatalistic, he gives us a wonderful insight into 19th Century rural life and, as I love Dorset, I can really immerse myself into his tales. Although primarily a love story, The Woodlanders also deals with the subject of educating women to a high level; particularly educating them in order to obtain a better chance of marrying 'well'. As Hardy observes, this can lead to estrangement from the lifestyle of a girl's childhood and a difficulty in understanding where she now belongs. Although the social climate has changed a lot since this novel was first published in 1887, love and all its idiosyncrasies remain the same. And many of Hardy's observations still hold true today. eg., speaking of one of the main characters in the novel (Grace), he says: 'Nothing ever had brought home to her with such force as this death how little acquirements and culture weigh beside sterling personal character." As always, a most enjoyable and very thought provoking novel.
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on 31 August 2015
One of Hardy's shorter books but to me one of his best. A hard critique of social class, divorce and women's rights set in rural late Victorian England.
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on 29 April 2001
There are several writers like Hardy, whose hard, yet ultimately humane, eye is not for everyone. They last, but they don't pick up too many honours in their own lifetimes and they never have the mass popularity of either Dickens or Austin. Both those geniuses also had the knack of appealing to a broad audience without frightening it. Hardy frightens you. He certainly discomforts you and refuses to let you suck your thumb. The only element of escapism in him, really, is the scenery itself! And that's an escape we all make, given the chance, from time to time. He keeps his eye on the subject. He tells you things you might not otherwise want to know and he tells a powerful version of the truth. All 'lads' should read Hardy so that they know what a realistic, 'hard-edged' writer is really like. Hardy despaired after the failure of Jude and happily for us went back to writing poetry, but, like George Meredith or George Gissing or today's DeLillo or Moorcock, Hardy is just too unsentimental for the average reader. The opposite of sentimentality is not swagger and aggression or a catalogue of terrors, but this -- a good-hearted, wise man with a wonderful eye who really can tell the wood from the trees! And to push the comparison harder than Hardy would ever have done, if you don't know Hardy, this is a very smooth entry into the dark, sometimes dramatically bright, forest that is Hardy's genius and a place where all lovers can come. And where they will always learn something to their advantage.
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on 27 February 2008
Hardy must rate as one of the best authors that can effortlessly project the life and times through every part of his book, allowing you to feel you know the place intimately, breath the atmosphere and understand the social structure of the untouched and unchanged Victorian country folk he depicts. This is one of his best stories that will have you experiencing many different feelings right through to tears. Excellent and in my top ten reads of all time.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 August 2007
This never gets rated as one of Hardy's 'great' novels (Tess, Jude, Native, Crowd) but it's always been my favourite. Something about the characters and their interactions just speaks to me.

As it is Hardy, expect melodrama, coicidences, and gut-wrenching emotions, but unlike so many books written today this is packed full of real characters, real emotion and a real plot.

If you've never read Hardy before, this probably isn't an ideal place to start (try Tess, or for a lighter Hardy Far from the Madding Crowd), but then come back to this. I have read and re-read repeatedly and still cry - a sign of a superlative writer and story-teller.
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VINE VOICEon 14 November 2010
In The Woodlanders Hardy tackles some of the darker conclusions to be drawn from the works of Darwin, as well as addressing his more familiar themes regarding what happens when an honest working class man sets his heart on a woman whose status in life is far above his own. It's bleak stuff but it is perceptive about human nature; strangely beautiful; full of engaging characters (I particularly liked old John South, and his dread of the giant tree that looms meanacingly over his house) and written with a great poetry and a deep love of landscape.

At the centre of The Woodlanders lies a little circle of people, each in love with someone who is, for one reason or another, either unwilling or unable to reciprocate. The hard working and melancholy Marty South loves Giles Winterborne. Giles, barely even aware of Marty's existence, loves Grace Melbury. Grace, educated above and beyond the status of her birth, is fascinated by the learned but somewhat aimless doctor Fitzpiers. Fitzpiers, in turn, does make a play for Grace but then, too late, finds himself in thrall to Mrs Charmond, the lady of the manor.

Inevitably, this being Hardy, motives are misunderstood and fate proceeds to deal everyone a shabby and barely playable hand. What Hardy does brilliantly in this novel is to show how some of the gloomier conclusions of Darwinism clash head-on with conventional (and religious) notions regarding the desirability of selfless, restrained and compassionate behaviour. Fitzpiers acts in a despicably shabby and self-serving manner while Giles is all noble self-sacrifice and concern for the woman he loves but, well, it's no surprise which one, in a Darwin and Hardy driven universe, will ultimately get the girl.

I've always thought The Woodlanders was a touch under valued. It somehow sits in the shadow of Tess and Jude and The Mayor of Casterbridge but I'd say it was every bit as good as its more famous companions. The descriptions of nature are beautiful, although again the Darwinian struggle for existence is played out even by the trees and plants as they compete for space and light, and the characters are skillfully drawn - particularly Marty, with her resigned fatalism and never stated love for Giles, and Grace, with her New Woman attitudes and ambitions to be something more than a beautiful arm adornment for a man. It's all terrific, melancholy, maddening, magical stuff. Heartbreaking to be sure, but gorgeous and flecked with moments of truly perceptive insight into the human condition. Hardy is one of my favourite authors, and I'd say The Woodlanders was one of the great man's very best.
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on 8 March 2012
The plot focuses on the relationship of one woman with more than man. The woman in question is Grace Melbury, a resident of Little Hintock and childhood sweetheart of Giles Winterbourne. Giles' father was a good friend to Grace's father and the senior Mr. Melbury had promised that he would allow Grace to marry Giles.

Through circumstances beyond his control Giles ends up as a man of very modest means and Grace's father decides that his daughter's marriage to Giles is no longer the best option. Enter onto the scene Dr. Edred Fitzpiers. He approaches Grace's father and asks for permission to court and marry Grace. Deciding that the wife of a doctor is a reasonable future for Grace, Mr. Melbury agrees.

However, all is not well in the marriage. Though I shan't spoil too much, Grace is given cause to become greatly unhappy; news of which reaches her father. Through a sequence of meetings, news comes forth that there may be a legal loophole through which Grace may divorce Fitzpiers and be married to Giles. In Hardy's time, this would have been most scandalous, and it is a major feature of his writing in general that he challenges what were the socially accepted norms.

Yet again, though, things do not work out well to the say the least. But I would recommend you read the book to find out exactly how.

For much of the first half of the book, I was wondering if it really was one his better written books, as it didn't seem to come close to the likes of Tess of the D'Urbervilles or my own favourite, The Mayor of Casterbridge. By the end, though, I was brought around to the writing. The reason is that the first half of the book has some seemingly disjointed sections which don't sit well within the narrative. But by about 2/3rds of the way through Hardy starts pulling these threads together and the reader finally gets to the see the whole picture. The main climax to the narrative doesn't seem come at the very end, so as I was reading I was wondering how the novel would actually end, given it seemed to be petering out.

Then, at the very last, the final piece of the puzzle is put back in place, which harks back to the opening scene. So I now recognise the brilliance of the writing, though the actual plot itself I felt lacked a little of the richness that his more novels have.
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on 12 March 2001
In 'The Woodlanders', Hardy explores the tensions between the rural working class and the educated middle class through the character of Grace Melbury, the local timber merchant's daughter. The story follows Grace's struggles to fit into a society where she is rejected by the class into which she has been educated, on account of her lowly birth. This is symbolised by her vacillations between her two suitors, the educated and intelligent Dr. Edred Fitzpiers and the simple and kind-hearted Giles Winterborne.
The woodland setting which dominates the lives of the characters is beautifully evoked by Hardy's richly detailed prose, and Hardy's sympathies clearly lie with the rural characters, in contrast with the middle classes characters of Fitzpiers and Mrs. Charmond who are often rather one-dimensional.
Grace herself is not a compelling heroine, lacking emotional depth at times and the story misses the power and emotional insight of some of Hardy's other works which tackle similar issues. However, I would still recommend it as a balanced and involving story of the interwoven lives of a remote rural community of the kind that Hardy understands as well as any other English writer.
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on 7 March 2007
This was the first Hardy novel I read - I chose it after hearing it was his favourite.

An enthralling account of the countryside of 1880's Dorset; Hardy's descriptions - which clearly show his love for the area - have stayed with me. It focuses on a tiny community reliant on the surrounding New Forest, into which comes a young doctor. Soon discontented with the "backwardness" of the woodlanders' lives, he becomes involved in a love triangle with tragic consequences.

Any lover of the English countryside, romantic fiction or those with a passion for words, will enjoy this book, particularly if you enjoy being prompted to consider arguments such as whether education makes us more or less happy and who knows better - the modern urbanites or the settled countryfolk.
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on 15 July 2001
A superb novel of rural life in Victorian England, which deserves to be as well known as the more famous 'Tess of the d'Urbervilles' and 'The Mayor of Casterbridge'.
Hardy's detailed knowledge of woodland trades and the life of the people who pursued them is set to serve a tale of passion across social divides. In the figures of Giles Winterborne and Marty South the author creates characters who in many ways prefigure our own time's preoccupation with living in harmony with nature. Against them are ranged the young man of science, Dr. Fitzpiers, and the rootless cosmopolitan, Mrs. Charmond, who embody other and more 'modern' ways of living. Between these two groups stands Grace Melbury, a timber-merchant's daughter educated out of her station, belonging to neither yet drawn to aspects of both.
The complex emotional relationships between these figures allow Hardy to explore the nature of human love and the problems created by the stress of social restraints on individual ambitions. Behind this, the author's deep knowledge and love of his native country shines through.
In the end neither wholly a tragedy nor a comedy, the tone of the novel is complex and piquant, in the manner of a late Shakespeare play.
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